Turning off the A9 onto the B8019 could well be a metaphor for life. It can be simple to stay on the main road and let everything pass you by in a blur, but some of the most interesting things you have to go hunting for. To quote a great philosopher of my generation “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around for a while, you could miss it”
The supper menu consisted of a choice of four starters and four main courses and yet still I struggled to choose what I was going to have. All of the options sounded so delicious I felt upset that between us we could only try half the menu. The huge selection of wine on the list was both surprising and exciting, there were lots of old favourites and some new labels, in the end I played safe and had a Chardonnay! If you aren’t really into your vino then the wine matching on the menu will give you a helpful steer towards what bottle will suit your supper, a nice touch.
We had our order taken and continued enjoying our drinks in the bar, there was a check that the wine was correct and then the offer of more drinks. It was all rather relaxed and efficient and I was almost upset to leave the cosy bar and head through for dinner.
The restaurant is a classic burgundy coloured room with high ceilings and big windows. It retained the comfortable homeliness of the rest of the hotel, but was a step up in terms of elegance, it’s like your favourite aunt putting on a Prada gown. The tables were a good size and there was plenty of room between them, but you were still close enough to your neighbours to have a good chat if you so desired. You’ll find at the Killiecrankie that other guests and the staff all end up as old friends by the end of your stay. But I digress, back to the meal.
The arrival of the bread confirmed we were in for something special, no bought-in part baked bread rolls here, but cute mini-loaves served fresh from the oven. The butter melting over the warm dough and the aroma of fresh bread wafting upwards could well be the ultimate introduction to any meal.
The starters followed hot on the heels of the bread, we chose the Twice-baked Crottin Goats’ Cheese Brulee with baby leaves and sweet pepper Salsa and the Tian of Crayfish, Avocado and Pink Grapefruit with Saffron Crème Fraiche.
The Goats Cheese Brulee was an interesting beast indeed. If I was being critical, which I have been known for, I would say the presentation was underwhelming, the Brulee sat on its bed of salsa looking a little dejected, like a jellyfish washed up on the beach. Any doubts I had about the dish disappeared as soon as I cut my first forkful. There was a slightly crispy outside with a light and springy inside, the rich Goats Cheese flavour was balanced by the creaminess of the other ingredients. The sweet pepper salsa brought a wonderful sweet and punchy flavour that was a perfect contrast to the creaminess of the Brulee. I may have been sceptical when the plate was put down in front of me, but this turned out to be a marvellous starter.
The Tian meanwhile looked stunning, the colours, height and presentation all boded very well. Although there was some unfair comparisons about to be made. The last time we had Crayfish, with grapefruit actually, was at Martin Wishart’s Michelin starred Loch Lomond restaurant, this was never going to compare well was it…? Well actually yes it did and I think the avocado may have actually edged this ahead. The flavour contrast of fish and citrus is well known to those who has ever seared tuna with lime, squeezed lemon on scampi or dare I say it added vinegar to battered cod. Crayfish zinged up with grapefruit offers quite a sharp contrast as in all the previous examples, but the masterful addition of the avocado brilliantly takes the edge off it. It tempers the flavours, whilst adding in its own sweetness. A fantastic starter and a great example of the kitchen playing with and balancing flavours.
The main courses were highly anticipated after such delightful starters, and in between clearing plates the staff were quick to top up glasses and have a chat. It wasn’t too long before the Grilled Fillet of Salmon, with seared King Scallops, Sweet peer, red onion and petit pois risotto and chive pesto and Pan-fried Fillet of Highland Venison with Garden Cabbage, Carrot Puree and Redcurrant and Port jus were placed down in front of us.
There were no disappointments visually this time around, both plates looked amazing. The salmon with its delicate pink surrounded by the lively green pesto and colour flecked rice was an explosion of colour. Taste wise it was much the same, the creamy risotto was perfectly cooked and the addition of crisp peppers and onion, just served to accentuate the creaminess of the rice. You can take or leave the salmon skin, but it had been pan fried to a crisp and the crunchiness was just another contrasting texture and flavour. Quality ingredients made the dish though, the Scallops were a good size and so succulent, but the salmon was even better. The flavour of the salmon was highlighted with the butter taste from the pan and combined with the flavours from the chive pesto. This dish was very much about smooth creamy flavours dancing around with sweet and almost citrus flavours, brilliant.
It was more of the same with the Venison. A quality piece of meat simply cooked to allows the rich meaty flavour to come through. The classic redcurrant and port flavours in the jus, rather than contrasting just highlighted the taste of the meat with the addition of a hint of fruitiness. Everything else on the plate was a side show to the Venison star-attraction, but it was all of the highest quality. The carrot puree stood out as being the best of the rest, its smooth texture added more to the dish than simply adding a few boiled carrots, which is of course all it was blended up. It was just another example of the Chef’s considered approach to the balancing all elements of the dishes, not just the flavours, but the textures and colours.
Service remained good throughout the meal, and every table was looked after equally well. The constant unobtrusive refilling of glasses, the crumbing down, the checks for satisfaction were all there and conducted in a friendly sincere manner.
Only one for us had room for dessert and I chose the White Chocolate and Drambuie Panna Cotta with Orange Jelly, Raspberries and Shortbread more out of curiosity than anything else. I was interested to see how well balanced the flavours of Drambuie, which is pretty punchy would be balanced with White Chocolate, which as chocolate goes, is pretty bland, would I end up eating a whisky flavoured blancmange? I really should have known better given how good every other dish had turned out! The Drambuie taste was there and much in evidence, but tempered by lots of sweet flavours. Drambuie itself, with the heather honey sweetness, starts off smoothing out the whisky flavour the white chocolate does the same, without adding any more complex cocoa flavours into the pudding. The Orange jelly topping just pulls through the herb and citrus flavours already in the Drambuie, rounding out the creaminess of the panna cotta. A great dessert on its own the raspberries and shortbread were just delicious garnishes!
The only thing left to mention is the excellent cheese selection, five fabulous cheeses, with labels so you can go to your local cheese-monger and buy some if you like it. The Corra Linn was particularly good. There was also a great supply of biscuits and oatcakes for you to just help yourselves to. Platters of grapes, fruit and some tangy quince finished off the table and I only wish I had had more room to properly sample the cheese table. We had not rushed our dinner and were the last to leave, but there was no rush to evict us from our table. The lovely staff were almost encouraging us to stay and eat more cheese, an offer we had to graciously decline and instead rolled our wonderfully sated selves across the hallway back into the bar. A truly marvellous dinner and a great dining experience. Dinner cost £42 for four courses, or is available as part of a Dinner, Bed & Breakfast rate when staying at the hotel.
We were invited to stay at Killiecrankie Hotel at their expense, but the review and opinions remain very much mine.